August 23, 2013: Today is the big ONE-YEAR anniversary for The Cultureur!
I can’t express enough gratitude to each and every one of you who has liked, shared, read, commented, and supported The Cultureur over the past 365 days. Over the course of the last year, I’ve awakened my entrepreneurial spirit, met incredible like-minded individuals, spent more time writing, packed my bucket list with many new destinations, learned about a variety of new topics and industries, and finally warmed up to the term blog and the evolving realm that it encompasses. I am confident that the incredible journey has only begun. The Cultureur started off as an organic convergence of my interests, passions, and experiences, moving from a digital curated collection to a luxury travel and culture blog with healthy doses of international development, social media, and lifestyle.
With a diplomacy, international development, and journalism background, I delved into travel blogging head on, only armed with a passion for social media, travel, and writing. And from there, I decided to hone my skills in marketing, particularly digital marketing and enroll in the certificate program for Digital Media Marketing at New York University to make sure I was on top of SEO, plugins, web analytics, and all that pizzazz. Being able to fuse so many of my creative interests together onto one platform has been sheer pleasure and an incredible learning experience.
Because the blogosphere is all about mutual engagement and learning from one another, I thought the best way to celebrate this anniversary would be to share what I’ve learned about blogging so others can learn from it. In celebration of the past 12 months and the many more to come, I reflect on what I’ve learned about this industry and the DOs and DON’Ts of this field that will hopefully make your blogging experience a little more positive and better, especially for those just starting out.
While most of these DOs and DON’Ts can be applied to blogging in general, they’re mainly geared towards travel bloggers. And these are lessons I’ve learned, so they might differ from your own experience.
I’m hesitant to make the following list because I know I’m going to leave out some really amazing people, but I wanted to make sure I give some well-deserved shout-outs to certain people that it has been a sheer pleasure getting to know, meeting in real life, and/or interacting with via social media:
Consider this my special edition BLOGIVERSARY #FollowFriday list: @rovingaltruist, @spilling_beans, @ericadfox, @dappertraveller, @nightjartravel, @dewtraveller, @AFARmedia, @foodandthefab, @jessinbelgium, @njaprettydress, @iprefer, @arielleatsea, @notopapertigers, @JoKarnaghan1, @focaljourney, @theretohereblog, @whereverwriter, @poonamparihar, @edwardjamesh, @elatlboy, @collegetourist, @triptease, @6monthstolive, @thirdeyemom, @antitourist, @bridgekeeptrav, @onelalove, @thewrldwanderer, @citygirlnomore, @xmrsaylax, @anishahbbc, @Globatris, @luxehotelier (There are more, I’m sure of it — apologies if I’ve left out other awesome people — not intentional, just a byproduct of getting oldER!)
Lots of love!
1) Adopt an abundance mentality.
I must reference Stephen Covey (of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame) with his abundance vs. scarcity model, as it’s highly relevant to blogging. I am a firm believer in the value of collaboration and the mutual symbiotic connections that the blogosphere *ought* to breed. Knowledge isn’t meant to be hoarded, but rather shared and used to inspire. And in today’s day and age, there’s no shortage of sources to get the information if someone’s determined enough. All that to say, if someone asks you a question or needs help, rely on good etiquette and answer them with a useful response. Collaboration, not competition. There is more than enough of the Internet pie to accommodate ALL of us (i.e. abundant mentality). Guaranteed.
“Most people are deeply scripted in what I call the Scarcity Mentality. They see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there. And if someone were to get a big piece of the pie, it would mean less for everybody else. The Scarcity Mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life. People with a Scarcity Mentality have a very difficult time sharing recognition and credit, power or profit – even with those who help in the production. They also have a very hard time being genuinely happy for the success of other people. The Abundance Mentality, on the other hand, flows out of a deep inner sense of personal worth and security. It is the paradigm that there is plenty out there, and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision-making. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.”
2) Self-host from the beginning.
If you’re serious about blogging and taking it beyond personal diary status, self-host your website from the very beginning to give yourself more freedom over the design and layout, to make it more SEO-friendly, and to be able to publish ads. Use a reputable host so you don’t have to worry about outages and have constant access to customer service and support. I wish I had done it sooner — it would have saved me a lot of time, money, and effort later. But hey, it gave me a chance to learn about 301 redirects, FTP servers, permalinks, plug-ins, and so much more! You live and learn.
3) While content is king, trust is content’s king.
It’s about gaining the loyalty of your subscribers so they’ll want to share your work and spread the word. Great content is important, but if your readers don’t believe what you have to say, the good content won’t matter.
4) Understand the industry.
Travel blogging, in particular, is so much more established than I had initially thought. Develop your niche, learn who the key players are, know who your competition is, figure out the unique value you can bring, research the brands you want to be associated with, and stay on top of all the trends within your sector.
5) Invest in your website’s SEO.
SEO and I did not ignite our love affair until I started The Cultureur, but I’m now fascinated by it and take every opportunity to hone my understanding of it and stay updated on all new developments. As a serious blogger, you want to understand Google’s highly complex algorithms as much as possible so your work is being indexed properly and showing up high in search results. Google uses more than 200 factors in determining where you’ll rank in search results, but there’s a ton of small measures you can take to ensure your presence in the top organic results. I highly recommend SEO Moz as an excellent resource to stay on top of the SEO game. They have fantastic Whiteboard Friday videos on YouTube that are worth checking out.
6) Always ASK.
As Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. Just because your blog is new or you don’t have thousands of followers…just yet, don’t think you can’t engage in press trips and/or establish certain partnerships. It comes down to the value you can bring and how you pitch it. Highlight your strengths, play up your brand, and show how the company/brand will benefit from the partnership. The worst you’ll hear is no (it’s their loss!), but in the best case scenario, you’ll get what you want.
7) Pay attention to your website design.
While you should make your website aesthetically appealing, you should also ensure that it’s easy to navigate and people can quickly find what they’re looking for. Choose a design that’s representative of your brand. Even if you have stellar content, but you have a difficult website that’s not easy on the eyes, I’m not likely to return. Pay attention to the loading time of your pages — it’s now used as a factor in how Google ranks your website in results. Pay attention to the placement of your posts, newsletter box, about page, etc. in order to optimize the reader experience. How your readers experience content on your site directly affects social shares, newsletter subscribers, and even sales (if that’s your goal).
8) Provide original, novel information that no one else is offering.
Try to be consistent and create a publishing timeline, but still take time to develop your posts, even if you can’t churn them out as often. Don’t write cookie-cutter posts that every other travel blog is posting. [Quality > Quantity]
9) Develop series.
I personally love making series: Sunday Snapshots, Reasons to Travel, Deconstructed!, Debunked!, Travel Tips, 24/48 Hours City Guides, and a few more. It gives you discipline, creates interest, and adds continuity to your website.
10) Embrace social media.
Social media is one of the single most valuable tools you can use to market your posts and website. Cross post your content on the different social media platforms. There’s hundreds of social media channels out there, but focus on those that are going to give you the biggest return on investment. Figure out where your readers play, and strive to optimize your presence on those channels. Social media is essential in learning about new blogs/information, reinforcing relationships, branding, and driving traffic. Make sure your social media buttons are super visible on your site to make sharing easier.
“Social media is more about psychology and sociology than technology.”
11) Promote other bloggers’ work.
Blogging cannot thrive on being a one-(wo)man show, so don’t stymie its underlying principles. Recognize other bloggers’ work and help spread the word. There’s a ton of rubbish out there, but take a few seconds to acknowledge someone’s hard work by commenting and/or sharing if you’ve truly enjoyed it and to help others cut through the noise.
12) Create Google alerts for your website.
Plagiarism is rampant, but there are small things you can do to make sure you’re not a victim. Create Google alerts for the keywords of your website and/or certain posts. If you happen to find a website that is using your content, written or images, don’t hesitate to ask them to take it down. My usual course of action is politely ask them to take it down –> file a DMCA complaint with Google –> legal action. You’ve worked hard writing/creating it, don’t be afraid to defend your intellectual property. Another way to find out where your content is being used is to run a search on Google Blogs.
1) Don’t don another persona because you’re behind a computer.
Be yourself; everyone else is taken. Oscar Wilde was certainly onto something here. He may have been talking about real-life, but it’s just as relevant to your online presence. How you conduct yourself in real life should carry over to how you act in the cyber world, as your blog is an extension of your personality. Be relatable, be yourself, and have your own voice and opinions. It’s the edge you have over multi-million-dollar companies, so use it to your advantage.
2) Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.
Plain and simple. If you just started out and you’re comparing your stats and work to someone who has been blogging for 5 or 6 years, you might as well stop now. You’ll make yourself miserable and overwhelmed and lose the spark to continue further. Instead, channel that into learning from others’ mistakes.
3) Don’t bother with who’s following you and who is not.
You do you. People will follow and unfollow you daily, so unless you care to make tracking that your full time job, don’t worry about it. Trust your work, engage on social media channels, and focus on providing value.
4) Don’t underestimate how much work you’ll be putting into the setup and maintenance of your blog.
Having a successful blog is a full time job — make no mistake about that. It goes beyond just writing good, compelling content. The only key to sustain is passion. Enjoy it — once it becomes a chore, it’s time to stop or reassess. As a blogger (read: serious blogger), your job doesn’t end at writing; you’re also a marketer, advertiser, copywriter, creative director, photographer, social media strategist, SEO optimizer, business manager, webmaster, PR agent, and much more. It’s a never-ending process with an ever-expanding to-do list. But if there’s not at least an ounce of fun somewhere there, you may want to re-think your reasons for starting a blog in the first place.
5) Don’t try to do everything at once; set incremental goals.
The process of blogging involves a lot of individual steps. From the very beginning, set realistic incremental goals. Break it down to a more manageable timeline and you’ll save yourself from getting overwhelmed and quitting.
6) Don’t interrupt the flow of the user’s experience with pop-ups.
Think about nudging people with a call to action when they come on your site. It’s about converting those viewers into regular visitors and subscribers. But don’t interrupt the flow with prompts and pop-up boxes, especially those pesky “Like Me on Facebook” prompts. I’m likely to take the nearest exit. If I like your work, I can find your other channels all by myself. There are ways to do it so it’s not distracting — activate the prompt so it shows up after at least 30 seconds or when the reader reaches the bottom of the post.
7) Don’t compromise the integrity and quality of your website for a few hundred bucks.
Think about how much time and effort you’ve put into building your website and gaining the trust of your followers. You could lose that trust in seconds with a high volume of sponsored posts and/or sub-par quality articles. Once your numbers start going up, the number of offers for backlinks and textlink advertising will skyrocket as well. Most will be absolutely useless. Have the confidence to negotiate the terms and make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re getting. Get the payment up front. Try to write the post yourself. Make sure you have the final word. More importantly, make sure it’s going to add value to your website and your subscribers. Along that same note, don’t forget to include all the necessary disclosures and to adhere to FTC guidelines.
8) Don’t get caught up in how things ought to be done.
The beauty of entering a relatively a new industry is that you’re able to shape it the way you want. You have the power to be a trendsetter, so be bold and use that power. Creativity knows no bounds, so don’t be afraid to take risks and test out new ideas. I’m a firm believer in go big or go home. If you don’t like something or feel like something is missing, have the courage to take those risks and change it.
9) Don’t publish posts without photos.
We’re visual creatures, so it’s no wonder why we respond so well to photos. Every post should have at least one photo; that’s especially relevant when you’re sharing it on social media channels. Make sure all your photos are watermarked and the ALT tags are filled in.
10) Don’t forget to use all the useful tools to optimize your website and to track your engagement.
In addition to using social media analytics, familiarize yourself with helpful tools such as Google Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, Alexa Rankings, Google Keywords, etc.
11) Don’t pay attention to the negativity.
I strongly dislike this phrase, but it’s super fitting here: haters are gonna hate. Relevant to any aspect of life: the better you do, the more jealousy and negativity you’ll run into. There’s billions of opinions on the Internet and it’s impossible to please everyone, so drown out all that nonsense and keep doing your thing. Your time is a precious commodity, so if someone’s wasting it, don’t hesitate to click the ‘block’ button.
12) Don’t give up.
In the initial phases of blogging, it can feel like your website is on the slow road to nowhere with stagnant numbers, lack of sharing/comments, limited exposure, etc. It can sometimes take years before you see the results you’re looking for. But constantly remind yourself why you started blogging in the first place, and recharge and widen your sources of inspiration. Let your passion for what you’re blogging about drive you through the process. It’ll get better, easier, and more rewarding. It always does.
I hope you found these 12 DOs and DON’Ts of blogging helpful!
Some of my favorite posts from the year:
1st-year report card:
Number of countries visitors came from: 168
First comment: Erica Preo
Recognition/Awards: AFAR Ambassador, Triptease Industry Insider, Freshly Pressed on WordPress, 13 blogging awards, EasyJet Blogger of the Month–April, Featured Expat on Internations, Featured Traveler by CheapOair, #SeeTheWorld founder
→ Upcoming website goals: meet more fabulous bloggers in real life + create new series + write more often + hopefully continue to inform, inspire, and incite